OUR INTERESTS IN MIND: It’s rare for out of town politicians to visit Mildura on a regular basis, but for Justice Party Member for Northern Victoria, Tania Maxwell, her third visit to Mildura in six months comes as she continues to pursue issues of importance to our region.

By JOHN DOOLEY

JUSTICE Party Member for Northern Victoria, Tania Maxwell, was in Mildura again this week to have further discussions with Mallee Sexual Assault Unit, Mallee Domestic Violence Services and the Mildura Rural City Council on a number of issues, including the establishment of a Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre in the city.

Ms Maxwell said that she wanted to come back to Mildura because during her last visit she realised how important it was to maintain contact with constituents and the key agencies on the frontline of some of the difficult issues affecting the region.

“Mildura didn’t benefit a lot from the Victorian Budget, and so I wanted to meet with the Council and the sexual assault centre and I visited the ‘Hub’,” she said. 

“It’s important to visit the regions in this big electorate on a regular basis. Firstly, so they remember who you are, but importantly, I have a real, genuine interest in what happens here.

“I love Mildura, and this is my third visit in the past six months, once before I was elected, and twice since.

“I had a very constructive meeting with Mildura Mayor Simon Clemence and the acting Council CEO, Allan Bawden, both of whom are very supportive of the need for a Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Centre.

“I discussed the rehab centre with Simon during my previous visit, and the situation currently is that they need the government to commit to this project.

“I told them that I’m happy to work alongside Ali Cupper (Member for Mildura), given she is in the ‘Assembly’ and I’m in the ‘Council’, and when the time is right, we will start to lobby the government on this front – it’s important that a clear and compelling business case is put forward.”

Ms Maxwell said that she has visited other areas in her electorate where rehab centres are working well.

“The outcomes have been very successful, and I know this is something that’s very important to Mildura,” she said. 

“When you don’t have your youth incarcerated, it takes kids off the streets and supports them not to be taking or using drugs and alcohol. 

“They’re able to find employment and not be reliant on Centrelink, and so it’s doing an enormous amount for the community, and we just need to get it up and running here.”

Before the State election in November, the Coalition, in Opposition, made a $7million promise to establish a drug and alcohol rehab centre in Mildura if they were elected, something it’s hoped the Labor Government will embrace.

“Incarceration rates across Victoria are increasing at a tremendously rapid rate,” Ms Maxwell said. “This is why I’m lobbying for a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre here. 

“We have to reduce the incarceration rates. How do we do that? We need to ensure that we have earlier intervention, we have to be addressing the underlying issues.

“Whether that starts with absenteeism in schools, we have to be looking at why this is happening before kids end up in the youth justice system, before they become incarcerated.

“Perhaps if those who find themselves with drug and alcohol issues had their situation handled in different ways when they were younger, they may not have gone on to have these addiction issues and end up in jail.”

Ms Maxwell also said that she believed it was vital that the police are resourced adequately to play their role in this issue.

“I think we certainly need to resource our police as much we can, so that they can bust those big drug syndicates,” she said. “We have to put a large focus on the suppliers of these drugs and they need our support to be able to do that. Mildura still has a high crime rate. 

“Theft is very high here – what’s driving that theft? Is it drugs and alcohol – having to feed that addiction. Is that what is responsible for it?

“From the law and order perspective it needs to have a far broader, holistic approach.”

The Member for Northern Victoria also met with staff from Mallee Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Services, where she was given an overview of how overworked and under-resourced they are.

“A lot of organisations who do similar work to them have repeatedly mentioned that they aren’t funded for administrative roles, which is really difficult, and so you have highly qualified, skilled staff who are spending a large amount of their time doing administrative roles,” Ms Maxwell said.

Ms Maxwell said that while Mildura was only an hour from Melbourne by air, it was isolated, and that was made worse by the absence of a passenger rail service.

“I don’t think the government fully understands what a valuable asset this region is, and that the tourism potential Mildura has is enormous, and they need to be supporting that,” she said.

“Agriculture here is expanding and diversifying, and so the pressure that’s on the region’s roads now for freight transport is enormous, and we have a cross-section of Federal and State Governments whose responsibility is to maintain those roads.”

The failure of the government to complete the Murray Basin Rail Project is of great concern to Ms Maxwell too.

“Yesterday, travelling to Swan Hill, I was astounded at how many trucks were on that road,” she said.

 “And we haven’t even got to harvest time. So once that arrives, there will be even more.

“It’s only going to get worse now that the funding for the Basin Rail project has run out. The ramifications of not completing that project will impact on so many other industries as well.”